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Decent income for the poor: which role for Europe?


  • Bea Cantillon
  • Sarah Marchal


Social Europe is under lingering construction. Not only does the EU indirectly (and increasingly) impact on national social policies, the Union itself is slowly evolving towards more social governance as has become apparent with the inclusion of social indicators in the European Semester. This notwithstanding, apart from the coordination of social security rights for mobile workers, anti-discrimination legislation, and health and safety standards at work, social policy remains an exclusive national competence. Moreover, it is guaranteed to remain so through the legal subsidiarity principle. As a consequence, EU social policy has to a large extent been limited to soft governance initiatives that aim to influence national policies in order to achieve commonly agreed social goals. These goals are defined as social outcomes, rather than the means through which they are achieved, a governance model known as “second order output governance” (Vandenbroucke, Cantillon, Van Mechelen, Goedemé, & Van Lancker, 2013). However, over the past decades, despite the ambitious Lisbon and EU2020 social targets, many EU Member States have failed to make progress in fighting poverty. Since the crisis the picture has become truly negative, not in the least due to strong diverging trends within the Union. Meanwhile, the indirect influence of the EU on national social policies has increased. This begs the question whether a more performant EU level involvement in the field of social policy is conceivable, within the constraints set by the European Treaties. In this paper, we argue that European minimum standards are the place to start. Thereby, a broad approach should be taken, including principles for minimum social security and minimum wages. To this end we believe that time has come for a modest shift to “second order input governance”. More in particular, we propose to include policy indicators regarding minimum income protection sensu lato, in the recently revised EU monitoring process of the European Semester. We assess the current (im)balances in national minimum income packages, and discuss in depth the potential value of including the indicators in a structured EU monitoring, as well as their main drawbacks and limitations.

Suggested Citation

  • Bea Cantillon & Sarah Marchal, 2016. "Decent income for the poor: which role for Europe?," Working Papers 1601, Herman Deleeck Centre for Social Policy, University of Antwerp.
  • Handle: RePEc:hdl:wpaper:1601

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Marchal, Sarah & Marx, Ive, 2015. "Stemming the Tide: What Have EU Countries Done to Support Low-Wage Workers in an Era of Downward Wage Pressures?," IZA Discussion Papers 9390, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    2. Carlos Farinha Rodrigues, 2012. "Minimum Income in Portugal: Changing the Rules in Times of Crisis," Working Papers Department of Economics 2012/05, ISEG - Lisbon School of Economics and Management, Department of Economics, Universidade de Lisboa.
    3. Atkinson, Tony & Cantillon, Bea & Marlier, Eric & Nolan, Brian, 2002. "Social Indicators: The EU and Social Inclusion," OUP Catalogue, Oxford University Press, number 9780199253494.
    4. Marx, Ive & Marchal, Sarah & Nolan, Brian, 2012. "Mind the Gap: Net Incomes of Minimum Wage Workers in the EU and the US," IZA Discussion Papers 6510, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    5. Wiemer Salverda & Ken Mayhew, 2009. "Capitalist economies and wage inequality," Oxford Review of Economic Policy, Oxford University Press, vol. 25(1), pages 126-154, Spring.
    6. Herwig Immervoll & Pascal Marianna & Marco Mira d'Ercole, 2004. "Benefit Coverage Rates and Household Typologies: Scope and Limitations of Tax-Benefit Indicators," OECD Social, Employment and Migration Working Papers 20, OECD Publishing.
    7. Hemerijck, Anton, 2012. "Changing Welfare States," OUP Catalogue, Oxford University Press, number 9780199607600.
    8. Natascha Van Mechelen & Sarah Marchal & Tim Goedemé & Ive Marx & Bea Cantillon, 2011. "The CSB-Minimum Income Protection Indicators dataset (CSB-MIPI)," Working Papers 1105, Herman Deleeck Centre for Social Policy, University of Antwerp.
    9. Immervoll, Herwig, 2009. "Minimum-Income Benefits in OECD Countries: Policy Design, Effectiveness and Challenges," IZA Discussion Papers 4627, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    10. András Gábos & Réka Branyiczki & Barbara Lange & György Tóth, 2015. "Employment and poverty dynamics in the EU countries before, during and after the crisis," ImPRovE Working Papers 15/06, Herman Deleeck Centre for Social Policy, University of Antwerp.
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    Cited by:

    1. Dieter Vandelannoote & Gerlinde Verbist, 2016. "The design of in-work benefits: how to boost employment and combat poverty in Belgium," ImPRovE Working Papers 16/15, Herman Deleeck Centre for Social Policy, University of Antwerp.

    More about this item


    Social Europe; minimum income protection; EU; social policy; social floor;

    JEL classification:

    • I38 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Welfare, Well-Being, and Poverty - - - Government Programs; Provision and Effects of Welfare Programs

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